If you were born before the 2000s, you’ll likely have an old stereo sitting somewhere in your home or you may see these devices disposed of in junkyards. Either way, these cool relics are enjoying a come-back. But can they match the modern stuff?
Today, there is a new and exciting movement for high-end loudspeakers that look like your daddy’s old speakers from the 70s. In this article, we will discuss vintage speakers vs modern speakers or simply old speakers vs new speakers.
Before you continue, you can also check out other guides in this series:
Vintage Speakers vs Modern Speakers Comparison Table
|Distinct vintage sound character
|More accurate and detailed sound reproduction
|Design and Aesthetics
|Classic designs, often nostalgic
|Variety of designs, sleek and modern aesthetics
|Technology and Features
|Older technology, lacks modern features
|Incorporates the latest technologies and features
|Size and Form Factor
|Often larger and bulkier
|Comes in various sizes, including compact designs
|Durability and Reliability
|May require maintenance and restoration
|Better durability and reliability with modern materials
|Limited connectivity options, relies on wired connections
|Offers a range of connectivity options, including wireless
|Price and Availability
|Availability varies, prices based on rarity and condition
|Widely available in various price ranges
Wharfedale, JBL and Klipsch and KEF are three rudimentary names that have ruled the loudspeaker industry for decades. These vintage speaker brands have produced many well-known vintage speakers. Today, these old speaker brands are seen as visionaries that spent years working on perfecting their loudspeaker drivers.
Their vintage speakers have survived the generational dynamics in a wide range of areas, including analog/discrete components, listening habits, the home theatre revolution, the shift to wireless loudspeakers, and advancements in amplification technology.
While many people enjoy some of the old features of older speakers, it’s the nostalgia of it all for other people.
One thing is sure, consumers will be paying hefty prices for these vintage loudspeakers in the future.
Let’s check out some popular vintage speakers and see the benefits they offer.
The original Linton was introduced in the market by Wharfedale in 1965. Reintroduced as Linton Heritage, this classical speaker features a 5-inch Kevlar cone midrange driver, 8-inch Kevlar cone woofer, and 1-inch soft-dome tweeter.
They can deliver all the midrange resolution with the natural sound of the original. Besides, it brings an enhanced speed and transparency at just 20 watts.
JBL L100 Classic
The original L-100 Century hit the market in 1970. Derived from JBL’s 4310 studio monitors, this loudspeaker was power-hungry and needed space too. Today, this is still one of JBL’s best speakers.
This sound master was reintroduced in 2018 as L-100 classic and audiophiles still got something to smile about the design and innovation.
It is accessorized with a 1-inch Titanium dome tweeter, 12-inch bass driver, pure-pulp cone, and 5-inch midrange drivers with a warmer tone.
They can still fill a large room with ease and require a powerful amplifier.
Klipsch Forte III
Ideated by Paul Klipsch over 70 years ago, Klipsch Forte III has been improved to Heritage Forte III loudspeakers.
They have an aged appearance and are large and heavy. If you think it is not good for the audition, try it with 10-15 watts of tube power and you will never look elsewhere again.
Why Buy Vintage Speakers?
Vintage speakers are great for interior decors that are already vintage. Let’s say you already have a vintage 60″ TV, haveing vintage speakers will just add to the decor.
Generally speaking, if you look carefully enough, you can find great value in certain vintage speakers which will outperform modern speakers when comparing pricing.
3. Sound Quality
Vintage HiFi speakers typically offer good, natural sound. However, they cannot match higher-end modern speakers unless you are seeking a vintage sound.
In the older days, subwoofers were not dedicated devices. Instead, the woofer was normally included in the cabinet.
This means you would normally have a 15″ woofer/mid/tweet in a large floor standing cabinet. Of course, there are many great vintage bookshelf speakers as well.
This does not mean that these speakers were not able to properly render down to 20hz or lower, because many could. Of course, subwoofers generally render lower than woofers, but for most people, the difference isn’t even noticeable.
This may be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. For one, you don’t really need to think about a sub separately for older speakers, unlike their modern counterparts with which you need to think about placement.
This is certainly a negative for vintage speakers – they are normally very large. Their corresponding modern speakers are much smaller for the same power output.
Vintage speakers tend to require less power than modern speakers. This is why it is not advisable that you run vintage speakers on modern amps because you may very well blow the speakers.
compatibility is one of the main concerns for people considering vintage speakers. However, you shouldn’t have a problem as long as you use other vintage devices (including receivers, vinyl record players, and amps) with vintage speakers.
For example, some vintage speakers were designed to work with record players and so there are great vintage speakers for record players that will outperform modern speakers for the same use. Another example is if you have a vintage AV receiver, it is a good option to check out the best vintage speakers for vintage receivers instead of going with any random choice of modern speaker.
But Does Age Affect Your Speaker?
Speakers can serve many years without losing sound quality. This is why their value remains intact over a long time.
If you have an old speaker in store, you can dust it and use it, unless you have some sort of compatibility issues.
Besides, companies like Acoustic Research produced high-quality speakers that would compete in the same race as contemporary speakers in the market such as AR-LST.
Are Old Speakers Still Good?
First of all, the fact is that there were bad speakers from the vintage era and there were very good speakers from the vintage era.
In the same way, there are bad speakers in the modern era and good speakers in the modern era. Take some time to learn about the history of speakers.
Looking back at those big Hi-Fi Speakers is a nostalgic experience. The size. The sound. All those properties make vintage speakers a cool memory for audiophiles.
However, vintage speakers seem to have ignored some of the key laws of physics. This is why the big speakers in the 50s and 60s with 15” woofers rarely went below 50 or 60 Hz. Those woofers used fragile paper cones, inefficient “Alnico V” magnet structures, and small diameter voice coils.
Furthermore, the speakers had the weakest tolerances of those ages. With cheap pressboard enclosures, the cabinet walls were most often resonant and greatly added to the sound distortions.
Like classic giant cars of the old days, vintage speakers are magical, lovable, and truly wonderful.
All in all, there are many really cool vintage speakers that we love for nostalgic reasons. However, in terms of audio quality and features, modern flagship speakers will always beat their vintage counterparts. Technology, manufacturing, R&D, materials you name it have all evolved.
Now having said that, please note that a good quality and well-engineered vintage speaker will most certainly sound better than any cheaply made modern speaker.
Modern audiophiles love musical devices that are well-researched with an extraordinary application of the laws of physics.
But does it mean that all modern speakers are good? Definitely not. I have seen a good number of modern speakers that were poorly designed with horrible sound quality. Such modern audio devices would be quickly beaten down by their old brothers.
However, there have been many improvements in audio engineering over the years. For example, modern speakers have moved from those hefty class B or Class AB circuits that generate a lot of heat to smaller class D and more efficient ones.
The choice of material and design is a big factor for modern speakers. While some companies use paper in the design of the cones, other companies find more power in aluminum, polypropylene, and ceramic or glass fiber polymers. Besides, the design of material outlay is also quite variant.
If you are looking for a sleek and minimal design, modern speakers are certainly the way to go.
Subwoofers are separate, dedicated devices from main speakers in modern speaker technology.
For example, in surround sound technology, the .1 normally refers to the subwoofer., For example, a 5.1 surround sound system includes one subwoofer. This configuration is more flexible and allows you to place the subwoofer as needed to improve the overall bass response.
It is rather impressive the level of power that you can achieve from small speakers. Certainly, to get the same power from an older speaker, you will be looking at a larger device.
Modern speakers typically require more power and so require much larger amps to run. This is why it is not advisable to run your modern speaker on vintage amps because you may damage the amp if the speaker is pulling too much power.
Modern speakers obviously have fewer issues with compatibility because there are more modern audio devices such as receivers and amps than vintage ones.
Vintage Speakers vs Modern Speakers
Old Vintage Speakers
The 50s to 80s had some of the very good loudspeakers for that time. Although some were never clear, a good number fought for accuracy.
Think of the original 1957 Quad ES-57 speaker. This device was fragile, inefficient, and could blow up any solid-state amplifier with its reactive load.
AR-4 speaker for instance was an amazing audio device with good bass. Later improved to AR-2ax and AR-3a speakers, the result was so good making them the most accurate speakers of their time.
That is for those who did not take high output or dynamic range more seriously. In fact, I would openly rank JBLs above all of my favorite models from back then.
New Modern Speakers
But how about modern speakers? Of course, they are well known as slim counterparts. Coming in smaller sizes with improved electronics, modern speakers are the standard floor-standers.
Now, even with the improvement of sound quality in many models, it is true that a good number of modern types still struggle with the output. And this comes even after many years of improvement in technology, R&D, materials, and manufacturing.
Whether a well-engineered vintage speaker can sound better than modern pieces, it’s just a thought. Besides, the constant influence of HT keeps driving vintages into the slim floor-standards that can easily go behind a 60” TV.
Do Speakers Sound Better With Age?
Yes, they do, and after the initial break-in stage, they will sound much better. In addition, you may want to take care of this process right away so you may enjoy your speakers at their optimum as soon as possible. Your speakers have multiple moving parts, but they have never moved before being used. Your new speakers will not be as dynamic until they have moved and become more flexible, due to their rigidity.
Do New Speakers Sound Better Than Old Speakers?
Newer speakers are louder. They have a steadiness and control that the old-timers simply don’t have.
Is It Worthwhile To Invest In Vintage Speakers?
Speakers are perhaps the most durable of all the components that make up a hi-fi system, and if they haven’t been misused, they can last for decades. And if something goes wrong, they’re usually rather simple to fix. Overall, secondhand and vintage hi-fi speakers can be a great investment if you avoid a few common pitfalls.
Do Modern Speakers Sound Better?
It depends on your definition of better. Modern speaker designs are definitely the most advanced, accurate and detailed, but one could make the argument that an old pair of, say, AR4x’s provide a “better” listening experience.
So, Which Is Better?
Many people argue that “vintage speaker vs modern speaker” is not a comparison even consider today because modern speakers are so powerful they outcompete vintage speakers in all respect. This is not necessarily true.
There are many factors to consider when comparing old and new speakers and it really comes down to your own needs. Both vintage and modern speakers offer benefits and have disadvantages. Moreover, it all depends on the stereo brand, speaker rating, and intended use.
In any case, if you like rebuilding, improving and restoring vintage speakers, then this can be an excellent hobby to get into.
Finally, you can check out our definitive list of the best vintage speakers of all time!